1. Anderson Silva (31-4)
It seemed all but certain that the world’s top middleweight would have another go-round with his former challenger and perennial antagonist Chael Sonnen in early 2012, but another bout -- Silva’s struggle with a damaged rotator cuff -- took precedence. Now healed, “The Spider” will look to make Sonnen his 15th Octagon victim when the two meet again in June, this time in Silva’s hometown of Sao Paulo. However, the real sorts of victims that most fans continue to call out for Silva to face are his pound-for-pound contemporaries: though a fight with GSP has taken a backseat recently, fan discussion around Silva battling 205-pound ruler Jon Jones is as popular as ever, especially with UFC President Dana White stating that Silva-Jones is a fight he’d love to see before the Brazilian great calls it a career.
2. Georges St. Pierre (22-2)
After a knee injury took St. Pierre out of UFC title defenses against Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz in the second half of 2011, the 30-year-old French Canadian was forced to undergo surgery to repair a torn ACL. But while King Georges sits mending on the sidelines, his subjects are planning a revolt. When GSP returns in late 2012, he’ll have an interim champ to deal with -- Condit, currently -- not to mention emerging contenders like Johny Hendricks and Jake Ellenberger.
3. Jon Jones (15-1)
The UFC’s youngest champion put on a bravura performance in 2011, dismantling light heavyweight legends and former titlists like Mauricio Rua, Quinton Jackson and Lyoto Machida. But what does “Bones” do for an encore? To start, he’ll square off against the man who could prove his toughest challenge to date, ex-champ Rashad Evans. After two false starts on previously scheduled dates, the former training partners will hope the third time’s the charm April 21 at UFC 145 in Atlanta. Jones has rapidly set about cleaning out one of MMA's most achieved divisions, and if he gets through Evans and Dan Henderson in 2012, he might actually complete the task.
4. Frankie Edgar (14-1-1)
Frankie Edgar is the leader of the pack in perhaps MMA's finest weight class. The Toms River, N.J., native's thrilling Oct. 8 fourth-round knockout of Gray Maynard was exactly the kind of signature performance the champ needed. If Edgar can hold onto the UFC strap, he may quickly carve out a very enviable résumé. Next on tap for Edgar is former WEC champion Ben Henderson come Feb. 26 in Saitama, Japan, in an early candidate for 2012's “Fight of the Year.” After that? Names like Anthony Pettis, Nate Diaz, Joe Lauzon -- not to mention fellow pound-for-pounder and Strikeforce champ Gilbert Melendez -- could be on deck further down the line. Talk about a tough schedule.
5. Jose Aldo (20-1)
The featherweight division’s affable ace has, by and large,, made it look easy in his three and a half year Zuffa stint. After buzz-sawing through the likes of Urijah Faber, Manny Gamburyan and Jonathan Brookins during his WEC tenure, “Scarface” transferred to the Octagon and continued his winning ways against the stiffer competition of Kenny Florian and Mark Hominick. Many felt Aldo’s most recent challenger, Chad Mendes, had what it takes to take out the 25-year-old Brazilian, but Aldo quelled that notion in January with a first-round knockout. The fights won’t get any easier from here: in addition to the winner of the Feb. 26 Hatsu Hioki-Bart Palaszewski matchup, Aldo has contenders like Dustin Poirier, Chan Sung Jung and Erik Koch creeping up behind.
6. Dan Henderson (29-8)
Dan Henderson has been consistently viewed as a multi-divisional standout throughout his nearly 15-year career, a reputation forged early by his 1999 Rings King of Kings tournament victory. However, more recently, Henderson has ripped off big wins from 185 right up to heavyweight, improbably re-emerging as a pound-for-pound stalwart at the age of 41. With his epic Nov. 19 win over fellow pound-for-pound entrant Mauricio Rua, Henderson is in line for some big fights in 2012 that could see him move up not just this list, but also the list of all-time greats. The first half of this year will be spent waiting, however, as Henderson has opted to sit on the sidelines until the Jon Jones-Rashad Evans fight unfolds. That decision should firm up the third UFC title bout for “Hendo.”
7. Dominick Cruz (19-1)
Zuffa’s 135-pound ace looked downright untouchable once again in his most recent title defense, a five-round unanimous decision over speedy flyweight Demetrious Johnson. Now, as if the pair hasn’t spent enough time together in the cage, Cruz and old foe Urijah Faber are set to serve as coaches on the 15th season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” While the date and location are currently unknown, at the conclusion of the series, Cruz and Faber will tangle in a rubber match for Cruz’s UFC bantamweight belt. Cruz has already cleaned out much of the still-developing 135-pound division, and Faber appears to be his best foil, especially after the “California Kid” savaged the man Cruz took the WEC title from, Brian Bowles, in November.
8. Gilbert Melendez (20-2)
“El Nino” proved why he’s the ruler of Strikeforce’s 155-pound roost on Dec. 17, and he barely had to use his powerful wrestling base to do so, picking apart dangerous challenger Jorge Masvidal in a 25-minute, all-standup affair. In the past 24 months, Melendez has taken out Masvidal, Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri and Josh Thomson, one of the finest resumés a lightweight could hope to build outside of the UFC. The 29-year-old Californian will remain outside the Octagon, too, as Zuffa brass recently announced that Strikeforce will continue on, likely with Melendez as its star attraction. While the debate rages on as to whether or not Melendez’s enormous talents are being squandered in Strikeforce, the champ awaits the outcome of a March 3 meeting between K.J. Noons and old rival Josh Thomson.
9. Carlos Condit (28-5)
Condit has done plenty in his nearly 10 years as a professional mixed martial artist, from a successful run in Japan’s Pancrase organization to becoming the final WEC welterweight champion. On Feb. 4, however, the “Natural Born Killer” ascended to new heights by outpointing former Strikeforce ace Nick Diaz and claiming the UFC’s interim welterweight title. Condit will naturally look to unify his title with longtime divisional kingpin Georges St. Pierre’s when GSP returns later this year, but in the meantime, the Greg Jackson pupil could defend his belt against any number of interesting candidates.
10. Rashad Evans (17-1-1)
For a while, it seemed Evans was simply snakebit. Between May 2010 and August 2011, the former UFC champ watched multiple title shots and high-level matchups pass him by as injuries befell both him and his opponents. But since coming off the shelf late last summer, Evans has looked his old self, first mauling Tito Ortiz and then handing hot prospect Phil Davis his first career loss. The latter win set the former Michigan State wrestler up with a shot to reclaim his belt from onetime sparring partner Jon Jones, April 21 in Atlanta. In the bout, Evans also showed off an impressive level of offense for 25 minutes, making a previously-unbeaten light heavyweight standout look purely amateurish en route to a unanimous decision win.
With the entries of Carlos Condit and Rashad Evans, previously 10th-ranked Mauricio Rua falls out of the pound-for-pound top 10. Previously seventh-ranked Jon Fitch exits the rankings with his Dec. 30 loss to Johny Hendricks.
Sherdog.com’s Pound-for-Pound Top 10